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Acquisitions Incorporated, the OG D&D actual play series, returns for its 15th anniversary

A Kickstarter campaign launches in March

Jerry Holkins wearing chainmail and armor sits next to Jasmine Bhullar in a staged performance of Acquisitions Incorporated. Image: Penny Arcade
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Acquisitions Incorporated, the long-running Dungeons & Dragons actual play, is heading off on a new adventure. The latest series will air in September and star Penny Arcade co-founders Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik alongside role-playing stars Jasmine Bhullar and Anna Prosser. Games will be led by Wizards of the Coast’s Jeremy Crawford and Chris Perkins — key designers on 5th edition D&D. A Kickstarter campaign, announced on Wednesday, begins Mar. 8.

Acquisitions Inc. is an originator of actual play, a format that began with podcasts of people playing Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games before naturally evolving into live performances, streaming series, and more. In a recent interview, Holkins told Polygon that Acquisitions Inc. began 15 years ago as an experiment pitched by D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast to help kick off the launch of the game’s then-new 4th edition.

“It was essentially a wargame, in addition to everything else that it is,” Holkins said. “I think that they were — perhaps with reason, as it turns out — somewhat nervous about how people would approach it. And so Mike just suggested that we just record ourselves playing it. And it turns out that that’s actually a really profound medium.”

In the original, largely unedited recording, you can hear those first few tentative rolls of the dice as they happened. Even as 4th edition faded away, eventually being supplanted by the much more popular 5th edition of the game, Acquisitions Inc. continued, helping give rise to the actual play movement — including The Adventure Zone, Critical Role, Dimension 20, and more.

But it was only just a month ago that Holkins said he was considering moving on from D&D entirely. The controversy surrounding the OGL (Open Gaming License), which made international headlines in January as it unfolded, had sullied D&D so much that he wondered out loud on social media if being associated with the brand any longer was a even a good choice.

“I had asked online, ‘Is it Dungeons & Dragons itself that draws you to Acquisitions Incorporated, or is it something about the game and how we do it?’” Holkins said. His tweet, made on Jan. 18 — midway through the OGL fiasco — made it clear that the two brands were closely intertwined. “The vast majority of people really felt like AI was something special that occurred inside [D&D], and I was asking that question at what I would consider to be the darkest part of their timeline.”

Eventually, the OGL situation was resolved — in part due to feedback from diehard fans of actual play groups. Now a significant portion of the rules and lore that underpins D&D will be protected by Creative Commons licensing, placing the seminal tabletop RPG outside the reach of both its publisher and its corporate owner, Hasbro. The maneuver, which has seemingly taken the edge off of fan unrest, also made it more comfortable for Acquisitions Inc. to explore the game world once more.

“Never in a million years would I have imagined that the message would have actually gotten all the way in, all the way through, and then resulted in this,” Holkins said. “That really put me at ease, but it’s something that I really had to think about.”

Holkins and Krahulik were quick to note that Wizards is merely lending its talent to the Acquisitions Inc. reboot. The publisher of D&D is neither giving nor receiving any money from their project.

“We are going to borrow briefly their entire rules and design sections,” Krahulik said, referring to lead rules designer Jeremy Crawford and senior story designer Chris Perkins, who will perform as Dungeon Masters. “And we appreciate that.”

The size and scope of this new Acquisitions Inc. project will directly depend on the success of its Kickstarter. The core experience is expected to be a 10-episode arc of roughly two-hour gameplay sessions, each one taped in a studio and edited for ease of viewing. Krahulik will of course return to his role as Jim Darkmagic (of the New Hampshire Darkmagics), while Holkins will reprise his role as the party’s founder, Omin Dran. Additional episodes, special guests, and other enhancements will be offered as stretch goals.

Whatever happens during crowdfunding, one member of the party is just happy that he gets to have more magical days at the table.

“I feel like I was in a very influential punk band that no one talks about anymore,” said Krahulik. “For my part, I just like to play Dungeons & Dragons with my friends.”

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